More charges in Flint water crisis

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New charges were filed in December in connection with the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich. State attorney general Bill Schuette announced charges against four defendants, including two former state-appointed emergency managers from Flint, as part of his ongoing criminal investigation.

This marks the fourth round of charges announced by Schuette’s office, bringing the total number of people charged to 13.

A Flint district court judge authorized charges against former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose and city officials Howard Croft, former public works superintendent, and Daugherty Johnson, utilities administrator.

Schuette alleged the defendants conspired to operate Flint’s water treatment plant when it was unsafe. He also alleged they used a falsified environmental order, misleading the city to borrow money to proceed with the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, while tying Flint to the Flint River for its drinking water in the interim.

In April 2014, the city officials moved forward with using the Flint River as its source water despite knowing the city’s treatment plant was unable to deliver safe drinking water, according to Schuette.

An investigator for Schuette’s office told the judge that the former emergency managers conspired with Croft and Johnson to enter a contract based on false pretenses that bound the City of Flint to utilize the Flint River as it’s drinking water source.

Flint Water

Earley and Ambrose, who reported directly to the governor’s office, are the highest-level officials to be charged thus far.

In April 2016, Schuette announced felony charges against two Michigan DEQ officials and one Flint city official. At that time, Schuette promised more criminal charges would be coming.

Then in July, six state employees – three employees of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and three state health department workers – were also criminally charged in district court with concealing unsafe lead levels.

A Genesee County judge authorized charges against Michigan Department of Health and Human Services workers Nancy Peeler, Corinne Miller and Robert Scott, and DEQ employees Liane Shekter-Smith, Adam Rosenthal and Patrick Cook.

All six face charges of misconduct in office, conspiring to commit misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty related to allegedly concealing or disregarding test results showing high levels of lead in the bloodstreams of Flint residents.

Schuette has also brought a civil lawsuit against engineering and consulting firms who had consulted on the Flint Water Treatment Plant. The civil suit, filed in Flint in Genesee County Circuit Court, accuses engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam and environmental consultant Veolia North America, and related companies, of causing “the Flint Water Crisis to occur, continue and worsen.” Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

Flint’s drinking water supply was first contaminated with lead starting in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of state-appointed emergency management, switched the source of supply from Lake Huron water supplied by the City of Detroit to Flint River water treated at Flint’s city treatment plant. Michigan DEQ officials have since acknowledged they made a mistake when they failed to require the needed corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water.

As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water. Although the city switched back to Detroit water in October 2015, the potential for harm continued due to damage done to Flint’s water distribution infrastructure. More recently, the city has pursued affordable programs to replace lead service lines.

In a positive turn of events, President Barack Obama last week signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act into law. The bill authorizes $170 million for communities facing drinking water emergencies, including funding for Flint to recover from the lead contamination in its drinking water system.

Some information in this news was first reported by the Detroit Free Press.

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